A Taste of Chettinad

“One is lucky to eat like a Chettinar” Ancient Tamil saying.

P1050031I’m lucky. A few weeks ago I received an email from Meenakshi Meyyappan. She wrote, “You probably might remember having stayed at The Bangala in Karaikudi in the Chettinad region of South India. At that time, you mentioned that you would be interested in a cookbook, if ever we did one. The Bangala Table a compilation of The Bangalas’ recipes has now been published.”

I bought the book that day and it is exquisite.

The Bangala is a small heritage hotel in Karaikudi one of seventy-six Chettinad villages deep in rural South India. And I will never forget it.IMG_7316

Ross and I arrived late for lunch our first day after a long, bumpy, hot drive through rural Tamil Nadu. Nothing prepared me for the feast of senses I was going to experience.

A calm, refined woman, Umma, greeted us warmly and handed us cool wet towels to freshen our hands and faces, served us tall glasses of lemonade and then invited us to follow her to the lunch area on the porch. They had been waiting for us and our places were ready at a long table set with the traditional fresh banana leaf dishes. A gentle water fountain nearby soothed my road weary head and the sweet scent of jasmine and roses from the garden filled the air. Servers, dressed in soft flowing saris, padded by and serenely spooned, one by one, dollops of the most aromatic and delicately spiced culinary creations I have ever tasted onto my banana leaf–fish curry, chicken Chettinad pepper masala, spinach Masiyal, mixed vegetable Kootu, drumstick sambar, yogurt. Then side dishes arrived. Vegetable fritters, coconut rice, mango. I was in paradise or was it home? It’s true. Home is where the heart is and the Bangala captured my heart.Image

Later Umma took us for a walk around Chettinad villages.Image 8 We talked about food and values, culture and art, family and traditions. We visited a home where a Chettinar family wove vibrant checked and striped cotton saris. IMG_7298

Image 1We shopped for vegetables and I bought a dozen tiny clay candleholders for Diwali in India or Christmas for us at our home in Canada.Image 4

Chettinad is known not only for its fine master chefs and cuisine, but also for its architecture. I listened to Umma’s stories about the eclectic historic palace homes we had never seen before that were built by Nattukottai Chettinar families. The palaces, ornately decorated with treasures–teak from Burma, coloured glass from Belgium, ceramics from Europe–reflect an exchange of ideas and merchandise that their trader/financier owners brought home from Burma, Malaysia, Ceylon and other parts of the world.IMG_7289

Image 5Now I too have a little piece of Chettinad to savour and treasure. The Bangala Table. Flavors and Recipes from Chettinad. The recipes, the photographs and writing are glorious. Thank you Meenakshi Meyyappan and all of you who worked hard to write this book and share your home with us.

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4 comments on “A Taste of Chettinad

  1. Sandi Carlile says:

    Nancy, I carried your business card for many weeks (now misplaced or lost!), bought your wonderful boo, “Weaving Threads”, the day we met at LK in October which I joyfully read while en route to Nairobi early in November. Your writing both inspires me and evokes memories of my own travels, some of which mirror your own. I hope our paths will cross again…perhaps in the spring ’15 at LK. Warm regards, Sandi Carlile

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  2. Dina says:

    Hi dear Nancy,
    I’m so glad I found you again.You don’t appear in my reader. I’ll unfollow you and then follow again, maybe it will do the trick. 🙂
    My outlook crashed a few months ago and I lost all my emails, I know there was a lovely message from you and Ross. It was a pure joy to read your “Weaving Threads”, thank you so very much!
    I’ll be in touch again, I’m in a rush packing fas I’m leaving or Norfolk again.
    Big *hug* to you and Ross from Klausbernd and myself,
    warm regards, Hanne

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    • How exciting to keep in touch Klaus and Hanne. We have good memories of time spent with you fayries in Norfolk and your quirky beautiful blog inspires us to return. Soon. Take care and have a cozy holiday season. Nancy

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